Computer-chip maker Intel Corp. said yesterday that earnings for its third quarter were $1.9 billion -- up 15 percent from the comparable quarter last year -- but the company cautioned that computer-processor demand in the United States is likely to remain low.
The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company reported revenue of $8.5 billion, up 8 percent from $7.8 billion. Earnings were 30 cents a share, up from 25 cents a share.
The world's largest chipmaker has had a trying few quarters this year, mainly as a result of excess inventory. Early this year, the company increased chip production to meet an expected rise in demand that didn't materialize. For much of the summer, Intel had 90 days' worth of inventory on hand -- more than the norm in the industry.
Meanwhile, at least one of Intel's chipmaking competitors, Advanced Micro Devices Inc., has made inroads in Intel's business by aggressively marketing a new type of processor technology, called 64-bit.
AMD has "had some momentum with their 64-bit processor, and Intel has been a step behind in that regard," said Manoj M. Nadkarni, president of ChipInvestor.
In a call with analysts yesterday, Intel's chief financial officer, Andy D. Bryant, credited the company's flash-memory business, a type of technology widely used in consumer gadgets such as cell phones, as one major reason Intel was able to meet lowered expectations for its latest quarter. Intel lowered revenue projections in September from between $8.6 billion to $9.2 billion to a range of $8.3 billion to $8.6 billion.
Though business is generally lackluster for Intel products in the United States as its customers work through inventory backlogs of their own, Intel said that is not the case around the globe. Intel president and chief operating officer Paul S. Otellini, in a call with analysts yesterday, said sales have grown strongly in India, China and Latin America, in contrast with the United States, where demand for its products is down 8 percent.
Because of its dominant role as the world's largest chipmaker, Intel is a bellwether in the semiconductor industry. Its prospects sometimes help drive up share prices for other companies or help send them tumbling. Intel's share price has been declining all year, as have stock prices in most of the semiconductor industry.
But many analysts say Intel's biggest headache, its excess inventory, is specific to the company.
Ashok Kumar, analyst at Raymond James & Associates Inc., thinks it won't be easy to get the inventory problem under control before well into next year. But analysts who cover the semiconductor industry see other concerns facing Intel and rival chipmakers. For example, cell phone sales, which have been a saving grace for Intel this year, may level off next year.
"The major markets that drive the semiconductor industry are starting to soften," said Jim Feldhan, president of Semico Research Corp. of Phoenix. "Most notably we think the cell phone market will soften significantly next year. . . . There's not another new, neat feature that's going to drive the market to upgrade."
And some analysts are already concerned that this lackluster year will spill into next year.
"For 2005," said Kumar, "all bets are off at this point."
Intel's fourth-quarter forecast calls for revenue of $8.6 billion to $9.2 billion, which puts its goals on "the lower end of seasonal expectations" for the industry, according to Bryant.